There is something special about movie music. Whether it is a few magical notes, or just the right lyric, a well-placed song can transport the viewer, elevating the film into something more.
Like many Oscar categories, Best Original Song has been through a number of iterations and transitions. The category was first introduced for the seventh Academy Awards, honoring the films of 1934. The winner that year was “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee.” Con Conrad wrote the music, and Herb Magidson wrote the lyrics. It was the only nomination for Conrad. Magidson was nominated again twice more in the 1940s, but didn’t win either time.
Over the years, the number of nominations changed. The first two years, there were just three. By 1940, there were 10. In 1944, 13 songs competed for Best, but in 1945, there were a whopping 15 nominees. This prompted a rule change. In 1946, a maximum of 5 nominees was set, and it hasn’t changed since then.
There is a lot of debate over what the criteria for an Original Song should be. The Academy has defined it this way:
An original song consists of words and music, both of which are original and written specifically for the motion picture. There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyric and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits.
So the intention is for the song to be particular to the film. It requires collaboration between the songwriter(s) and the director. But it does not have to be included within the film itself.
In 2017, there were 70 eligible entries for Best Original Song. The songs cover a wide range of genres for both music and film. They include songs from animated films, documentaries, period narratives, comedies, and dramas. Each is unique in some way.
But in the end, there can only be five nominees. And only one winner. This year’s nominees include a couple of first-timers, a nine-time veteran in search of her first win, and last year’s winners looking for a repeat.
Here is a look at this year’s nominees for Best Original Song:
“MIGHTY RIVER” from “Mudbound”
Music and Lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson
Mary J. Blige co-wrote and performs this song, which appeared in the final credits for four-time Oscar nominee, “Mudbound.” The song’s style doesn’t try to match the 1940s setting of the film, but does capture the power of the story, and the hope that comes when people learn how to love one another.
“MYSTERY OF LOVE” from “Call Me by Your Name”
Music and Lyric by Sufjan Stevens
Another first-time nominee, Sufjan Stevens contributes his airy melody to a song that sets to music the heartbreaking temporariness of first love. “Mystery of Love” is achingly nostalgic and lovingly tender. Stevens has written songs for films including “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Whisky Tango Foxtrot.” He has also contributed to television series, most recently “This Is Us.”
“REMEMBER ME” from “Coco”
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
This wife-and-husband team won gold the first time they were nominated in this category. The song? “Let it Go” from the Oscar winning Disney film, “Frozen.” Now, in their follow up, they are nominated again for their touching song about family connections. “Remember Me” appears three different times in Disney/Pixar’s “Coco,” and each time it is slightly different. From lively pop to lullaby, the song’s lyrics take on a new meaning each time.
“STAND UP FOR SOMETHING” from “Marshall”
Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn and Diane Warren
It’s almost impossible to believe that the songwriter who gave us “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” has never won an Academy Award. This year, Diane Warren is nominated for a ninth time. She co-wrote “Stand Up for Something” with Lonnie Lynn, better known to most as Common. He won an Academy Award for the 2015 song “Glory” from “Selma.” In this collaboration, the two created another modern song for a 1940s-era film. One that draws upon the iconic leadership of the film’s central character: Thurgood Marshall.
“THIS IS ME” from “The Greatest Showman”
Music and Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
It was just a year ago that the young up-and-coming team known as Pasek and Paul won their first Academy Award. They were double nominees that night for two songs from “La La Land.” And while that film was released a full year before “The Greatest Showman,” they had already been working on the later film long before signing onto last year’s Best Picture nominee. With “This Is Me,” the duo has crafted something of an anthem to many out there who feel overlooked and marginalized. It has been one of the most downloaded songs since the soundtrack’s release in December. And, according to my research, it is the first Best Original Song nominee to be used in promotional spots for the Olympics.
Overall, this is an interesting year. While it seemed early on that Disney would take this in a walk, it’s easy to underestimate the popularity of Grammy winners Mary J. Blige and Diane Warren. And then there is “The Greatest Showman.” Despite what critics have said about the original studio musical, its popularity with audiences can’t be ignored. Add to that the overall likability of the entire cast, and the fact that it is popping up everyone Olympic-related during the voting period, and this song starts to emerge as a surprising frontrunner.
WILL WIN: “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
COULD WIN: “Remember Me” from “Coco,” Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez